Leadership or Tyranny? Summary: Within just 28 days, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had no alternative but to step down from his 23-year presidency in Tunisia. A single spark set by Mohamed Bouazizi turned out to be a prairie fire across the whole country. Economic Growth Paradox Although the economy of Tunisia has been growing steady at an average rate of 5% for the past 23 years, the unemployment rate has been standing at over 10% since 2003, which is indeed alarmingly high. The rate is double for the young Tunisians, and even higher for the fresh graduates.
A recent survey has shown that the unemployment rate stands at 25% and 44% for male graduates and female graduates respectively. If the economy is growing every year, why are there so many people out of job and struggling to survive against serious inflation? What is going on behind the scene? Surrender to Dictatorship In addition to the economic factors, the political situation in Tunisia has played a crucial role in this Jasmine Revolution. The Tunisians have been silent for years: minimal (if any) freedom of speech, deprivation of other political rights and stringent censorship over information and the press.
Rampant corruption at the top tier level of the Ben Ali regime, as revealed by Wikileaks, is another burning issue. On the other hand, the Tunisians had to confront the unreliable and abusive police force from the government. Instead of being protected by the local police force, Bouazizi (who was operating as an unlicensed hawker) had his produce confiscated and his subsequent complaints entirely ignored, which eventually led to his self-immolation. Transactional Leadership The exchange relationship between the Ben Ali government and the citizens in
Tunisia did not seem to be balanced. Prior to a series of protests and demonstrations and subsequent abdication of Ben Ali, the Tunisians had been resigned to the dictatorship of Ben Ali in exchange of a decent life. However, are the Tunisians getting what they are supposed to obtain? Undeniably, Tunisia has become one of the most stable countries in Arab. True, the slow yet steady economic prosperity and gradual increase in basic health care and education have made the Tunisians look better-off than their Libyan and Algerian counterparts.
Nonetheless, they are also under constant threat of unemployment, corrupt officials and violent police force instead of what guarantees a decent life – law and order. Media in Play? While some critics have also partially attributed this revolution to Internet social media, Twitter and Facebook in particular, caution should be exercised in order to avoid playing up the actual influence of social media. No doubt, the speed of information transmission has been greatly enhanced with the introduction of the Internet. In the case of Tunisia, some have named it as “Twitter Revolution”.
However, all social media are better seen as a vehicle or a catalyst of the protests and subsequent overthrowing of Ben Ali. In other words, they are not the sole enablers of such revolution. After all, the crux lies with the fact that when the leader realises his self-interests and benefits at the expense of the interest of the other party, such transactions can no longer be deemed as satisfactory or fair in the eye of the exploited party. What’s Next The single spark in Tunisia has already started a prairie fire in Egypt, with the flame spreading to Libya and China at a great speed.
How should the leaders faced with similar dilemmas react? Adopting an even more high-handed approach on the people helps very little at best, and aggravates the problem further at worse. Stricter censorship and control over the information flow to the citizens might sound plausible, yet people can always find means to overcome such barriers. On the other hand, people do not seem intimidated by the dire consequence of their protests – arrest and torture. The self-immolation of Bouazizi is a case in point to show the ‘make-or-break’ determination of the people when pushed to the dead alley. Fair Deal
If the transactional relationship is to be maintained, the leaders should identify, understand and respond to the true needs of people. Marginalizing any segment of the society is the last thing to do – frustration and disappointment of the people can evolve into a fatal blow to any regime. If people’s basic welfare were not well taken care of, could the government rest assured that social peace would be maintained? What can go hand in hand with the above is that the leader should create a vision for the people and motivate the people to pursue and actualize the same version, not for themselves only but for others as well.